THE BIGGEST ONGOING DISASTER IN THE UNITED STATE YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF

Apr 23, 2016 by

Incredible video of a sinkhole, located south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, swallowing whole trees:

Tim Murphy at Mother Jones described the sinkhole at Bayou Corne as “the biggest ongoing disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of.”

One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne’s 350 residents—an exodus that still has no end in sight. Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse.Texas Brine’s operation sits atop a three-mile-wide, mile-plus-deep salt deposit known as the Napoleonville Dome, which is sheathed by a layer of oil and natural gas, a common feature of the salt domes prevalent in Gulf Coast states. The company specializes in a process known as injection mining, and it had sunk a series of wells deep into the salt dome, flushing them out with high-pressure streams of freshwater and pumping the resulting saltwater to the surface. From there, the brine is piped and trucked to refineries along the Mississippi River and broken down into sodium hydroxide and chlorine for use in manufacturing everything from paper to medical supplies.

Bayou Corne is the biggest ongoing disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of.
What happened in Bayou Corne, as near as anyone can tell, is that one of the salt caverns Texas Brine hollowed out—a mine dubbed Oxy3—collapsed. The sinkhole initially spanned about an acre. Today it covers more than 24 acres and is an estimated 750 feet deep. It subsists on a diet of swamp life and cypress trees, which it occasionally swallows whole. It celebrated its first birthday recently, and like most one-year-olds, it is both growing and prone to uncontrollable burps, in which a noxious brew of crude oil and rotten debris bubbles to the surface. But the biggest danger is invisible; the collapse unlocked tens of millions of cubic feet of explosive gases, which have seeped into the aquifer and wafted up to the community. The town blames the regulators. The regulators blame Texas Brine. Texas Brine blames some other company, or maybe the regulators, or maybe just God.

Friday, Apr 22, 2016 · 10:12:47 AM PDT · Jen Hayden

2015 update:

Texas Brine Co., beset by a series of lawsuits blaming it for the Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster, is seeking $100 million in damages from Occidental Petroleum Corp., claiming that the worldwide oil driller caused the now 31-acre hole in the south Louisiana swamp.

The claim, made Thursday in Assumption Parish through a series of suits filed in ongoing sinkhole litigation, puts forward a theory for the sinkhole’s beginning that tries to deflect any liability for Texas Brine and partly contradicts the official theory of the sinkhole’s appearance in early August 2012.

State scientists and a special panel of worldwide experts have said for more than two years that Texas Brine mined a salt dome cavern too close to the dome’s outer, supporting wall of salt. A breach opened up in that salt wall and allowed surrounding rock to flood into the massive underground cavity carved from the salt deposit, creating the sinkhole in the cypress swamp near Bayou Corne.

In 2016, litigation is still pending:

A federal court in Louisiana has found that Louisiana law applies to a Texas company’s claims against its excess insurer relating to actions filed against the company for damages resulting from an incident on property in Louisiana. LeBlanc v. Texas Brine Co., LLC, 2015 WL 7451196 (E.D. La. Nov. 23, 2015).

Actions were filed against a Texas company for damages resulting from a sinkhole that developed on property in Louisiana. It sued its liability insurers seeking defense and indemnity and moved for summary judgment, urging the application of Louisiana law universally to all of its insurers. Its excess insurer cross-moved for summary judgment, seeking a ruling that Texas law applied to the company’s claims against it.

The court denied the insured’s motion for a choice of law ruling against all of its insurers but found that as to the excess insurer, whose policy contained no choice of law provision, Louisiana has the most significant relationship with the litigation and the most interest in having its law applied to the coverage dispute. Accordingly, it held that Louisiana law governs any dispute under the excess policy.

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